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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
The mad dash for UCI points officially got underway in mid-February, as a small group of American cross-country pros made the long trek to Cyprus to contest the first UCI-sanctioned races of the year. UCI ranking (based on UCI points) will determine who represents the U.S. at the Olympic Games this summer in Athens.
The first rider to get on the board was Mary McConneloug, who touched down on the island nation set in the far eastern reaches of the Mediterranean Sea two weeks ahead of her peers, then took victories in the second and third races of the four-race E2 Winter Cup series. The Seven Cycles rider met with little resistance in each race, taking the first by nearly six minutes and the second by more than 12.
Last weekend the competition got a little stiffer, as McConneloug was joined by U.S. Olympic team rival Sue Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen), along with America’s two top male riders, Jeremiah Bishop (Trek-Volkswagen) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX Ralph Lauren). Also making the trip to Cyprus were a host of top Belgian riders, including reigning world champion Filip Meirhaeghe and World Cup star Roel Paulissen.
In the fourth race of the Winter Cup series, Meirhaeghe showed off his rainbow stripes at the front of the pack, taking a 35-second win ahead of countryman Paulissen. Fellow Belgian Maarten Wijnants gave his country a sweep of the top three spots, while Bishop was fourth at 3:26, and Horgan-Kobelski sixth at 3:40.
In the women’s race McConneloug rolled to another triumph, besting second-placed Haywood by more than eight minutes. Cyprus rider Elina Sofocleous was third.
Most of the top pros will stay in Cyprus for another two weeks to continue the points chase. On February 29 they will contest the E1 Voroklini International. Next comes the D2 Afxentia Stage Race from March 5-7.
Americans Alison Dunlap, Shonny Vanlandingham, Todd Wells and Adam Craig, who are all also in the running for Olympic spots (there will be one for the woman and two for the men) opted not to make the trip to Cyprus.